File Naming Conventions: How to Optimize Document Management

It’s all too common to find yourself wading through your organization’s shared folders in search of the file you’ve been asked to review:

PROJECT-PROPOSAL-NEW-v5.doc Project_proposal_2020_final+edits.doc THIS_is_the_final_proposal_(old-version).PDF

Why does this happen? Why can’t everyone just use proper file naming conventions? The reasons can be lack of proper internal policy or procedure for naming and organizing files, lack of any consideration for folder or information architecture, and just plain carelessness.

With a small amount of effort, you can establish proper file naming conventions and avoid this kind of document spaghetti. The more organized you can be with your internal information, the more efficient and effective you can be in your business goals.

Just imagine – seeing neat, intuitively named folders, knowing which folders contain the documents you’re looking for, and – take a seat – having confidence that the file you’re about to click on will be what you expect it to be.

In this Process Street article, we’ll cover:

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This section will consider some best practice conventions for file naming. Whether you’re a small organization or a large enterprise corporation, these principles should be relevant, because they’re designed to consider the needs and requirements of each case before administering any one solution.

Establish your information architecture Readability: Humans vs Robots Wikipedia shows that being digital can broaden your categorization Establish your information architecture

“Information architecture” is the way you organize your internal information, in terms of how you design the system that allows you to access and manage that information.

Websites are a great, pragmatic example of informational architecture – they’re quite literally formal systems of information organized into a navigable and interactable interface. Hyperlinks, site maps, and navbars all represent the architecture (the links between different pieces of information) of the websites you’re viewing.

Of course, we’re not necessarily talking about websites. Information architecture is a broad concept that can be applied to any kind of knowledge management. In any case, building solid information architecture will depend on a deep understanding of what information you have, and the most efficient and effective way to make sense of all of that.

What does “efficiency” or “effectiveness” mean for information management? You can start by considering who will need to access the information. Will there be multiple iterations of similar files, many files across different areas of the organization, multiple departments accessing the same area? This kind of thing.

Efficiency can be understood as the shortest time possible taken to access any given file. How many clicks is also a relevant metric. Is the folder structure unnecessarily complex, taking 10 clicks through empty category folders before reaching the destination file? Consider if more horizontal organization is a better option, with a couple of clicks to relevant files.

Effectiveness can be understood as whether or not the file naming conventions help or hinder the completion of daily tasks. How many different files do you have to open before you find what you’re looking for? Is the file naming convention intuitive, or do you need to spend extra time learning how to make sense of 010220_MA_P-01_Project_1_Draft.doc, when Marketing_Project_Proposal_June_v1.doc would do just fine?

Readability: Humans vs Robots

One of the most important questions you can ask is: Who are you organizing your files for? All said and done,

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